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 Surely the doomed hijackers are heard to utter more than one wild last shout of 'Allah Akhbar!' as, according to the FBI version, they steer their plane at full throttle into the ground?

Tuesday, September 25, 2001
(Orlando, Florida, USA)

AFTER a very leisurely drive down I-95, adhering to the speed limit all the way, I arrive at [...] Bookstore at Orlando at 3 pm where we are to have the book signing and dinner this evening, and have lunch -- tomato and basil soup, and curried chicken.

President Bush has formally rehoisted the U.S. flag from half-mast, and the wave of patriotism is receding. At the service areas I notice rather more men in camouflage uniform than usual.

BushSo President George W Bush is off to the wars: or rather his young men are. At least they will have an enemy terrain over which the costly Stealth bombers and fighters can still operate with a degree of safety. Thanks to the radio "mush" generated by billions of cellphones above civilised European countries ("Yeah! Hi! I'm in the cinema!") the Stealth planes are no longer invisible to radar. But cellphones are rather thinner on the ground in Afghanistan (at least the Taliban does not seem to encourage their use), and all the bombers need is an identifiable enemy. Causing just collateral damage is not enough.

Some of the legislators are manifestly uneasy about this lack of a proper enemy. Colin Powell, a statesman reminiscent of Nelson Mandela with his wisdom and maturity, promised yesterday to reveal the evidence they have that puts the blame on Osama bin Laden, only to be slapped down by Bush who now says that (unspecified) security considerations prevent this disclosure. Ho-hum. Those who want to believe that, no doubt will.


 I MAINTAIN my own sharper focus on that crater at Shanksville, in Pennsylvania, and what really brought down the United Airlines Flight 93. Two days ago the FBI confirmed that the voice recorder has been recovered intact, and there are leaked reports that the recording has sounds of a scuffle, and the pilot shouting twice "Get out of the cockpit."

There are however nagging elements of uncertainty -- whether this is from the (airborne) cockpit voice recorder or, as some papers have it, a recording made by air traffic control on the ground, as the pilot left his microphone open, and these elements suggest that we are perhaps being duped.

It is a pity to squelch a heroic story -- the passengers attempting to overpower the hijackers, Tod Beemer, who shouts "Let's roll!", a Mr Glick saying his farewells to his wife, and the rest. A true story like this is badly needed to bolster the morale of a country shocked and dispirited by the highly visible failure of its expensive Intelligence services.

We can understand why Washington will not for a long time concede that the United 767 along with Messrs Beemer, Glick, and the other 42 passengers and crew has been shot out of the skies by an F16 on George W Bush's orders, if that is what happened.

It is clear that three passengers said in cell phone calls to the ground that they were about to jump the hijackers; but there is sufficient evidence for sceptics to doubt the rest. One passenger, phoning from the lavatory, said that the plane had been hijacked; the dispatcher (on the ground) heard an explosion in his headphones, then the line went dead. The tape has been seized, we have heard nothing of any "explosion" since then.

Trying to explain that bang, perhaps, early FBI reports described how Flight 93 passengers had made cell phone calls to relatives describing a bomb strapped to one hijacker. Today the FBI announces that they have found no evidence of any such bomb, and Agent Bill Crowley also declares they have found no evidence that the plane broke up before it hit the ground -- a strange denial, perhaps, in the circumstances (particularly since a fragment was reported to have been found eight miles away).

Crowley has also refused to disclose information on the evidence from the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder: Why has no transcript of the cockpit voice tape been released? There may be some innocent explanation. The FBI says that voices shouting in English and Arabic are heard, but they offer neither any transcript or translation. Surely the doomed hijackers are heard to utter more than one wild last shout of "Allah Akhbar!" as, according to the FBI version, they steer their plane at full throttle into the ground?

If they remained grimly silent, why does the FBI not say so?


 COME to that, why has no newspaper or U.S. government official reminded us of the case, in 1999, of the Egyptair flight 990 which had just taken off with a full passenger load from New York, whose Arab pilot unaccountably rode it straight into the Atlantic (murmuring, as the voice recorder revealed, prayers and imprecations to Allah as he did so)? Are there really no similar features that need investigation? Was the Egyptair pilot perhaps conducting a trial run, and decided only when airborne not to go through with the mission against a US target?

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Sept 13: CNN first reports Pennsylvania crash debris found 8 miles away

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